On the last of the rainy days we donned our wet weather gear and headed into the forest next door and then down “the secret pathway” to Groppo for an afternoon excursion. If you were to drive through Groppo, you’d think that there are very few inhabitants. Just a few of those distinctive tall, shuttered village houses all in a row and that’s about it. But if you delve deeper and venture into the back streets, you will find a maze of doorways, passages and stairways leading to many more old character houses. I would say that 3/4 of the population of Groppo are invisible!
You could call us many things, but you could never say we don’t have balls (well, 3 of us do!). Who else would be mad enough to attempt a long drive in a foreign country to a place they’ve never been WITHOUT A MAP? Well that’s exactly what we did yesterday. We thought it might be nice to drive to La Spezia, then Cinque Terre for the day. We had been unable to obtain any good maps, as the information office in Bagnone is always closed (we have yet to see it open) and it can be difficult to find a “cartoleria” in small towns. Being quite familiar now with the road to Aulla, we thought that finding La Spezia would be easy if we just followed the signs. We were mostly correct, but did not take into account the Italian way of zero warning before turn-offs. It must be a federal law to put signs right ON the turn in question and never ever BEFORE the turn. That would be too easy right? So many wrong turns, u-turns, swearing and Itanglish queries for directions later….we managed to find La Spezia.
La Spezia is really the gateway to Cinque Terre and is quite touristy. It’s the biggest Italian city we’ve been in so far and we liked the architecture and history of it. We managed to park the car in a shopping centre carpark and proceeded on foot in search of a Cartoleria. The difference between La Spezia and Bagnone is not only size, but a willingness to speak English. Most shop assistants and people on the street will speak to you in English and, although they are a little shy to speak it, are often easy to understand and quite helpful. We found our way to the cartoleria by asking a group of school kids who were positively falling over themselves to speak English to us. It seemed like a bit of a status symbol amongst them as to who spoke it the best.
Map in hand, we headed off to Cinque Terre. For those who are unfamiliar with this area, the Cinque Terre is a series of 5 villages built on and into the cliffs of the Italian riviera coastline. The 5 villages are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We spent time at Manarola on this trip, but intend to return for the others later during the year. The drive along the cliffs is pretty scary, with a sheer drop into the Mediterranean on one side. We reached Manarola and were required to park outside of the village and continue on foot. The journey is gradually downhill all the way as you pass through the narrow streets and stairways. There are tall buildings all around as is typical of Italy, but these are more packed in and seem to be almost stacked on each other. We descended into a narrow street with boats parked outside of the houses which led down to the water below and a spectacular view of the med.
We hung around Manarola for a while, taking in the stunning views before the kids expired and it was time to leave. As fun as it was to descend into that lovely little village, the walk back will now be referred to as the “death march”. Good thing it wasn’t a hot day. So many stairs that seemed to go on forever, with one hike up a precarious flight of steps on the side of a cliff which ended up leading nowhere and had to be climbed down again. Finally we made it back to our car and chose a route home on our new map. The fun was only just beginning! We decided to avoid La Spezia again and take the road down the coast and back around to end up in Aulla again. Well thanks to a dodgy map and those dam road signs ON the turn, we ended up back in La Spezia….only this time it was dark and peak hour. I know I’ve mentioned before that Italians are crazy drivers, well there are 4 things that make driving in Italy really scary:
1. No warnings. No warnings for ANYTHING including roadwork, turn-offs, one-way streets and pedestrian crossings (see point 2). It’s like they thrive on the adrenaline of sudden decisions.
2. Pedestrian crossings are plentiful and terrifying. There are no signs for them and they appear on main roads where most cars are whizzing by at high speeds. The white lines just materialize on the road in front of you and you can guarantee that there will also be some sort of visual obstruction next to it (such as a building, a council bin or a news stand) so that it’s impossible to see any pedestrians who may be considering the suicide of crossing the road. The weird thing is, they don’t look at all worried about it! They just cross with impunity.
3. Speed limits are just for show, nobody actually obeys them. The only rule seems to be to go as fast as your car will allow.
4. Right of way is like talent in an acting school: nobody really has it, but everyone will claim it. You can be going straight at the traffic lights and the people turning left (that’s like a right turn to us Aussies) on the other side just go straight in front of you!
We saw 2 accidents on the way to Aulla, so the craziness is obviously not working for them. We eventually made it home in one piece.
Today was another glorious day in paradise and we spent the day hanging out at home. Here are some pics of our house:
We walked up to Pieve this afternoon for a look around. It’s the village just above ours and across a little stone bridge called Ponte Pieve (yes it’s in our mailing address for those who may recognise the name). Pieve is even smaller than Groppo, but they have a big stone church whose bells we hear every hour of the day. There was even a wedding there last Sunday and the bells rang for quite a while (also made the most car traffic ever seen on the little road!). Here are some pics of Pieve:
I’ll leave you with some more photos in and around Groppo. Many of you have said you enjoy the photos very much, thanks! I have some video too but I’d like to know what you want to see before I upload anything. Views of Bagnone? Groppo? Our house? Driving on the roads? Send me a message and let me know.